by Dr. Gbenga Oduntan, Reader (Associate Professor) at Kent Law School, University of Kent, Member, Public International Law Advisory Group.

On Saturday 23rd of September 2017, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) gave a decision in support of Ghana in its case against Cote d’ Ivoire. Millions of barrels of oil wealth in the so called Tweneboa, Enyenra, Ntomme (TEN) oil fields found between Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire hung on the balance. The case had held up investments and oil multinationals heavily invested in the area waited with bated breath. The delineation dictated by the Court took account of and vindicated Ghana’s oil licensing history in the area but the real winner is the law and practice of peaceful settlement to boundary disputes in Africa.

the prognosis for African competence in managing its resources of a transboundary nature is good

The decision has settled just one of the many areas of intense conflict over transboundary resources all over the continent. In a number of countries, the exploration, production and marketing of transboundary natural resources have become a conflict trigger, and this make it difficult, if not impossible, for the affected countries to exploit their resources. Moreover, resource conflict among states undermine development, peace and security. It is just appropriate that earlier in the same week of this important judgment, an important event on Africa’s transboundary resources held in the hallowed halls of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa. It was the “Report-Review Meeting on Transboundary disputes in Africa”. I was privileged to attended this conference as an expert and these are my most valuable take home points:

  • Transboundary resources are important to Africa and natural resources can spur growth. It is however, important to note that the value of availability of natural resources can be overstated and there is little value in resorting to open conflict and especially war. Natural resources led economies like Angola and Nigeria have indeed made less economic growth in recent times than other production or diversified economies like Ethiopia. Fluctuation in prices of natural resources is a serious limitation for countries relying on them.
  • Resources do not necessarily have to be a cause of conflict. A lot depends on social, economic and political factors at play between countries and the choices their elites and political leaders make.
  • Transboundary disputes do not only concern oil, gas, minerals and other natural resources with high rent contribution to the GDP. Freshwater supplies, pastoral grounds and straddling living spaces are important to states and they all will play a significant part in the international relations between African states in the near and long term future.
  • Africa has an array of continental institutions, regional bodies as well as indigenous expertise that can defuse tensions and help in conflict resolution over transboundary resources. It is therefore, morally and politically expedient to seek home grown solutions to African transboundary resource problems whether in terms of joint exploitation, management or dispute resolution.
  • There are exemplary cases of African transboundary resource management and dispute settlement that could be used as reference points for best practices, namely, the resolution of the border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia, Mali and Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Cameroon, Nigeria- Sao Tome and Nigeria -Equatorial Guinea.

Therefore, the prognosis for African competence in managing its resources of a transboundary nature is good. For resource rich Africa, therefore, the barrel is essentially half full and not half empty.


The Author

Gbenga Oduntan


Dr. Oduntan on the settlement of the Malawi/Tanzania lake boundary dispute

Contested sovereignty over territorial zones and the delimitation of maritime boundaries

Related Areas

Maritime Boundaries